Broad-leaved Dock:The plant with it’s own robot

Broad-leaved dock

Broad-leaved dock (Photo by the author)

Broad-leaved dock (Rumex obtusifolius), a widely-distributed member of the Polygonaceae, occurs in the grasslands and The Wilderness area of campus. Alternative names include bitter dock, due to the leaf taste, and butter dock, as it was formerly used to wrap butter. A more unusual common name is Cushy-cows. Classified as an injurious weed under The Weeds Act of 1959, it out-competes grass and forage species and damages agricultural pasture. Farmers usually control it with herbicide however, organic farming requires labour-intensive, manual clearance.  An innovative technological response to this problem was made by  a Dutch research team who have developed and field-tested a prototype robot to detect and destroy individual weeds with a cutting device (van Evert et al 2011). Using GPS and a camera the robot achieved a weed detection rate of 93% and effective control in 73% of cases. The authors conclude the robot is effective for broad-leaved dock control on commercial farms.

Green Dock Beetle

Green Dock Beetle (James Lindsey@Ecology of Commanster)

Broad-leaved dock has positive attributes; the seeds are important winter food for birds such as Dunnocks (Prunella modularis) (Bishton 1986), whilst leaves are eaten by insects, including green dock beetles (Gastrophysa viridula). There is little scientific evidence to support the well-known British practice of rubbing leaves on nettle stings to reduce pain, but you may be one of the many who swear it works.



Image: Author: James Lindsey

Bishton G. (1986), The diet and foraging behaviour of the Dunnock Prunella modularis in a hedgerow habitat. Ibis, 128: 526–539.

Van Evert, F.K. et al (2011) A robot to detect and control broad-leaved dock (Rumex obtusifolius L.) in grassland. Journal of Field Robotics. Volume 28: 264-277.

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